Hoofbeats aplenty as Bay Meadows again hosts fair

Before Candlestick Park ever chilled baseball fans during fog-wrapped night games and the Cow Palace ever hosted livestock or upstart hockey teams, the San Francisco Peninsula was home to another legendary sporting venue.

Bay Meadows Race Course, pounded by the hooves of legends such as Seabiscuit, Citation, Noor, Round Table and Native Diver, has been a local tradition for 73 years.

Bill Kyne built Bay Meadows after buying the old Curtis-Wright Airfield in San Mateo and broke ground at the site on April 8, 1934. The track opened seven months later to a crowd of 15,000 people.

After bringing horse racing to San Mateo, the track became a social center for the growing community. In order to stay open during World War II, the track donated 92 percent of its profit to the U.S. war effort, and in the ’60s, parties and social dances were held in the track’s lobby during off-hours. Bay Meadows was also the first California track to have “photo finishes.”

“Everyone loved to go to Bay Meadows, it was a happening place,” said California Horse Racing Board Chairman Richard Shapiro, whose family owned Native Diver. “I’m sure there was some sex-appeal of being just outside San Francisco, it was part of that Bay Area allure.”

Owner and trainer Bill Anton, who houses his horses across the Bay at Golden Gate Fields, said that whenever he’s at the track, he looks up into the stands at the spot his stepfather once occupied.

On Nov. 15, 1998, as his stepfather battled cancer, one of Anton’s horses overcame 20-1 odds to win by at least two horse lengths in a heated match at Bay Meadows, a memory the San Ramon horseman says still brings him to tears.

“I told him it was really tough race with a lot of good trainers, and he just told me to put my mind to it,” Anton said. “After we won, I looked up into the seats where he used to sit and I could still see him, and every time I ran at Bay Meadows, I would always look up into the seats for him.”

San Mateo County Fair Horse Racing Dates

» Gates open at 10 a.m. each day.

» Aug. 8 through Aug. 13

» Aug. 15 through Aug. 19

Promotions

» Aug. 8: Opening Day

» Aug. 9: Senior Thursday (free admission for people 62 and older)

» Aug. 11: Dollar Day ($1 admission, programs, sodas, hot dogs and beers)

» Aug. 16: Senior Thursday

» Aug. 18: Family Day (bounce houses, face paints, arts and crafts)

» Aug. 19: T-Shirt Giveaway (For the first 4,000 fans with paid admission)

jgoldman@examiner.com

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